Last updated: 22 November, 2011

Kuwaitis rally for and against embattled premier

Supporters and opponents of the Kuwaiti government staged separate rallies on Tuesday as the oil-rich Gulf state plunges into deep political crisis over a corruption scandal involving MPs.

Thousands of highly enthusiastic government supporters rallied opposite parliament in the capital Kuwait City to declaring their total backing and loyalty to the emir and prime minister.

The gathering comes a day after the opposition held one of its largest rallies so far to press calls for the dismissal of Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad Al-Sabah and the dissolution of parliament.

Liberal opposition groups, meanwhile, held another gathering in Kuwait City to demand a change of premier and dissolving parliament, holding the government responsible for widespread corruption.

Kuwait’s ruler, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, told editors on Sunday he will not bow to opposition pressure to remove the prime minister or dissolve parliament, saying the corruption case is being probed by the judiciary.

The new escalation of tension comes after opposition-led protesters on November 16 stormed parliament after clashes with riot police. The government vowed to take legal action against the intruders.

Government supporters raised Kuwaiti flags and portraits of the emir and called for opposition activists who broke into parliament to be brought to justice, chanting: “The people want the implementation of the law.”

At the liberal gathering, a number of MPs and activists insisted the only solution for Kuwait’s political dilemma is to sack the government, change the premier, dissolve parliament and hold early elections.

MP Saleh al-Mulla, a member of the National Action Bloc, said all five MPs in his group will vote against the prime minister in a grilling expected to be debated on November 29.

The announcement means that MPs opposed to the prime minister are now believed to have the support of the required votes to unseat him.

Kuwait’s public prosecutor last September opened an unprecedented probe into allegations that about 15 MPs of the 50-member house had received huge illegal deposits into their bank accounts estimated by the opposition at $350 million.

The opposition also accuses Sheikh Nasser, a senior member of the Al-Sabah ruling family, of transferring millions of dollars of public funds into his bank accounts abroad. The government has categorically denied the charge.

Kuwait is OPEC’s third largest producer, pumping around 3.0 million barrels of oil per day. It has accumulated more than $300 billion in assets, but development projects have been stalled because of political disputes.